In the previous article, the first two phases of vending technology implementation was discussed. Successful implementation can greatly increase the profitability and efficiency of a vending operation. There are three more phases to discuss as well as how an operator can put the whole process together.
Phase 3: Forecasting
At this point in the progression of technology implementation, pre-roll forecasting is possible with detailed sales data provided via DEX data. Pre-roll forecasting means that the load for the machine is built at the truck, or truck pre-kitting (the next phase focuses on warehouse prekitting.)
Working with historical numbers, truckload and product fill quantities, operators can build and automate forecasts. End of day, truck inventories are minimized, and operators can eliminate the “first walk” for each machine.
By this stage, the role of the driver is certainly changing. Work is now a two-step process: pull products and fill the machine. Manual machine inventories are gone. Drivers need to have the process and discipline to accurately record detailed product fill, inventory and column assignment data. They also need to spend time to make sure all product is in its correct location to ensure data accuracy. Because forecasts better match machine fill requirements, drivers are spending less time servicing machines and reconciling inventories, leading to route consolidation opportunities. This saves in labor and truck costs, and slashes product waste.
Phase 4: Prekitting
Once the pre-roll forecasts have been field-tested and adjusted, operators are ready to start prekitting each driver’s route in the warehouse. This is achieved based on item-level data tracked by machine, product, category, time of day and other factors pertinent to the organization. Pre-kitting is best accomplished by pairing pick-to-light software with the vendor management software (VMS). Pick-to-light systems simplify order fulfillment during the pre-kitting process by using light signals to direct the pre-kitting activities of fulfillment and warehouse personnel. They enable pickers to quickly and easily find the correct bin location by means of LED displays rather than paper along an assembly line. Besides guiding the picker to the exact location, the lights also display the precise amount ordered for each delivery route and the system requires confirmation when each item is picked.
The changes prekitting brings to an organization are extraordinary. Operators can virtually eliminate end of day truck inventories. Decisions are made at a management level rather than on the fly by drivers, and are based on customer preferences and buying habits rather than what inventory is left in the truck. But effective prekitting depends on accurate data and strict processes. DEX-ready machines, handhelds and a VMS are required to read machine data and predict product demand accurately. And all personnel need to be clear on the new processes and be held accountable for following them.
Fleet management takes on a whole new look in the prekitting phase. According to Stu Riemann, general manger of D&R Star Vending of Rochester, Minn., “We all have trucks that break down or need routine maintenance. When that happened in the past, under a rolling inventory system, switching that entire inventory to the spare truck and then back to the original truck was very time-consuming. Our customers lost out because we were not seeing their stops that day. With pre-kitting, switching from one truck to another is a very quick and painless process.”
Some operations are able to resize their fleet with smaller trucks or further reduce their routes, leading to substantial fuel savings.